Since cameras were small enough and light enough to be carried around without a tripod, humans have been exploring our curiosity and intrigue of the world around us through the medium of street photography. Originally from Chengdu in Sichuan Province, China, Feng Li works as a civil servant for the provincial Department of Communication but, in his spare time, captures the people on China’s streets.
“Outside of work, I prefer to take my own style of photos,” he tells It’s Nice That. Feng Li takes a camera and a flash with him everywhere he goes, shooting daily, to try and capture the moments that grab his attention – moments which can be seen throughout his ongoing series White Night. The series began in 2005 and “will keep going, it’s my only work that will never stop,” Feng Li explains.
The series got its name when Feng Li was assigned to cover a lighting festival in a deserted suburb of Chengdu. As a way to mirror the ghostly atmosphere of the structures at the festival and reflect China’s nighttime which is “never truly dark,” he named the series White Night. The name also derives from the Bible, specifically, the Book of Job and a phrase which reads: “They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night”.
The resulting photos are inhabited by a cast of fascinating and unlikely characters. Feng Li shoots in a spontaneous manner, “without any planning”, yet some scenes appear too surreal and precise to be anything but staged. Humans are portrayed from uncomfortable angles, Feng Li’s use of flash making them stand out in the scene against a darkened background even more.
Although claiming to focus on everyday life and mundane interactions, both Feng Li’s approach and style captures strange fragments from “the theatre of daily life.” Inspired by his feeling that people all over the world “are absurd”, his images are also a reaction to the rapid changes he has witnessed taking place across China. In what could be considered a flip book of contexts and scenarios, White Night moves from a man with a bloody hand lighting his cigarette to the close-up photo of a child’s grimace with just the turn of a page.